By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It may have been the playoffs.
But it did not feel different for many of the Highlands Bluebirds players that saw their first playoff action. The Bluebirds led the Boyd County Lions, 49-7 at halftime and that allowed many reserves to earn some playing time. Top-ranked Highlands ended up winning the first-round Class 4A playoff game 56-14.
“Playing football is the same every day and games are games,” said Daniel Kremer, Highlands sophomore linebacker. “There’s not really a big difference between the pressure and other things. It’s great (to have fun) because we practice all summer. We all work hard to play. It’s part of the experience.”
Kremer and teammate Jake Parker ended up recovering fumbles for Highlands against Boyd County. Griffin Urlage returned an interception back 18 yards for the Bluebirds. Urlage ranks second on the team with three interceptions behind just four from Quentin Murray.
What the younger guys got experience facing was a Boyd County offense that ran the Double-Slot Wing-T and some Stack-I. Highlands had not faced a Wing-T team since Scott County on Aug. 24. But the Cardinals run a traditional Wing-T with one back in the slot, another behind the quarterback with another back to the side. The Double-Slot Wing-T has two guys in the slot and another behind the quarterback. The backs try to confuse defender by running in different directions.
Highlands still managed to wear down Boyd County on both sides of the ball. Boyd ran 53 plays offensively to 47 for Highlands. But the Bluebirds gained 464 yards for an average of about 9.9 yards a play to 270 for the Lions for an average of about 5.1 a play.
The Bluebirds do not have guys playing both directions with their 91-player roster. The Lions listed 48 players on their roster on maxpreps.com and did have players going both directions.
“Defensively, we just try to get three-and-outs,” said Jake Lester, senior defensive back. “We try to get the offense on the field as fast as we can. Of course, they try to get the defense on the field as fast as they can. It’s great being a two-platoon team because we don’t have to play every play of the game. Most high school teams have players playing both ways. We save a lot of energy.”
Highlands again used its hurry-up offense to wear down Boyd County. The Bluebirds like to hike the ball as soon as the official puts it on the line of scrimmage. The Highlands defense has had to defend 70-plus plays at times this year as a result of the quick-strike offense.
Words of encouragement from 1982, 1992 state championship teams:
Members of the Highlands 1982 and 1992 state championship teams celebrated their 30 and 20-year anniversaries last night by wishing the current team luck.
The 1982 team defeated Franklin-Simpson, 6-0 to win the Class AAA state title at KFEC Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville. The 1992 team beat Paducah Tilghman, 15-6 in the same class at the same site to win the crown. Bill Hermann served as head coach of the 1982 squad and Tom Duffy led the 1992 team.
“It was really meaningful,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach. “The guys from those teams were real sincere in how they saw the guys and said positive things.”
The Bluebirds are just a touchdown and extra-point away from reaching 600 points for the season. They are averaging 53.9 points per game which is a little off last year’s state championship squad that scored a state-record 849 points and averaged 56.6 points. Only the 1930 Ashland Blazer team averaged more points per game at 59.1.
Highlands now has 84 touchdowns for the season. That’s an average of about 7.6 a game. Last year’s team scored a state-record 121 for an average of about 8.1 a contest and the 1998 team scored 113 for an average of about 7.5 a clip.
The Bluebirds have rushed for 2,857 yards and passed for 2,666 for a grand total of 5,523 yards to 3,035 for the opposition. Highlands has outgained opponents by an average of 502.1 yards to 275.9.
Only one team with a minimum of eight games has averaged more than 500 yards of offense per contest. That was Hazard in 2005 with an average of 510.8 a game in 11 games.
No major upsets in 4A:
All the ranked teams in Class 4A won their opening-round playoff games Friday and Saturday.
Like last year, the Bluebirds will most likely have to go through Associated Press ranked opponents to win the state championship. That starts with Ashland Blazer (9-2) on Friday. Blazer received 47 votes to tie rival and District 8 champion Johnson Central (9-2) for eighth. Johson Central slipped from sixth with its 17-12 home loss to Belfry on Oct. 26. Blazer beat Covington Holmes, 41-14 and Johnson Central knocked off Harrison County, 68-14.
Fifth-ranked Covington Catholic (8-3) manhandled Rowan County, 67-3 Saturday. The Colonels travel to Johnson Central on Friday.
The Russell County Lakers moved up to second in this week’s poll. The 11-0 District 6 champions handled Marion County, 52-0 in Russell Springs on Friday. They play host to seventh-ranked Boyle County (7-4) on Friday. The Rebels defeated Clay County, 72-20 on Friday in Danville.
On the other side of the bracket, the fourth-ranked and District 5 champion Lexington Catholic Knights (9-2) will play host to the sixth-ranked Knox Central Panthers (10-1). LexCath beat Rockcastle County, 48-0 and Knox Central dispatched Mercer County, 41-20.
The Warren East Raiders are the other undefeated team in 4A outside Russell County. The District 2 champion Raiders (11-0) moved to third in the poll and beat Calloway County, 49-7 to start the playoffs.
Warren East will meet 10th-ranked Lone Oak (8-3) on Friday. Lone Oak tied Owensboro and Madisonville-North Hopkins for the top spot in District 1, but wound up with the second seed in the tiebreaker. Lone Oak beat 2011 4A state runner-up Franklin-Simpson, 53-33 in the playoff opener.